10 Questions for Burak Uyan

Burak Uyan is focused on his second coming.

Just one season after bowing his namesake collection, the 31-year-old designer, who launched Aperlai in 2009 with Alessandra Lanvin and current business partner Srdjan Prodanovic, is taking his new brand global and moving beyond the past (he left Aperlai in 2010).

“I needed to create my own universe and express my design views without being held back by other projects,” said Uyan, who also has worked for Givenchy and Giambattista Valli and was featured in February’s Vogue Talents Corner for rising designers in Milan.

His line, which ranges from $650 for flats to $1,500 for booties, showcases sculptural heels, geometric shapes and textures spanning snakeskin, quilting and mesh. It’s been picked up by more than 40 shops, including Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Gregory’s in Las Vegas, Net-a-porter.com, nearly a dozen retailers in Europe and eight in Asia. By 2012, Uyan said he aims to double his Asian business, which already includes accounts in Japan, Thailand and Singapore, and open a branded boutique.

Here, Uyan talks about the benefits of taking on an outside investor, making a name for himself and tackling luxury in a post-recession world.

1. What is the biggest difference in designing for your brand versus the others you’ve worked on?

BU: I’m not being forced to go in any one direction. I’m my own boss and can create without making compromises. It is completely my own style, and I don’t have anyone else’s direction on top of me. Having your own ideal, using your own materials and [honoring] your own aesthetic really makes it my thing.

2. What were the major lessons you learned working with the bigger houses?
You’re trained to go through any type of situation and have to be mentally [strong]. You have to be prepared for anything, be able to manage and motivate a team and communicate what the collection needs to be. You have to [possess] the capacity to bring structure to creative chaos without loosing the motif.

3. How did your prior experience at launching footwear help you prepare for your own line?
I was doing my own thing [before], and by the end, the line [captured] my own style. It was a good trial and offered a lot of good feedback that told me I was on the right track. It was like a test, a pop-up line, and I learned what women desire and appreciate in my designs.

4. What are the biggest challenges of starting a luxury line right now?
Convincing clients that fashion is still very important. The luxury [consumer] has become much more sensitive to quality, comfort and craftsmanship. As an up-and-coming brand, it can be hard to convince customers [to take a chance]. The challenge is to make clients understand that craftsmanship, contemporary design and creativity is still important and worth every cent.

5. What have you had to do as a relative newcomer to stand out?
I never sacrifice my greatest thoughts for commercial ideas. Every piece in my line is a signature piece. I would never create the easy basic pump, [for example], but I do love to use traditional craftsmanship and push it in a modern way with new technology and unconventional materials [that also] offer the highest comfort for your feet.

6. How does your interest in architecture influence the way you design?
Architecture is the main source of inspiration, but so are art movements such as constructivism and functionalism. Construction elements turn into heels and interlace details. Paintings and collages [influence the] source of textures and color inspiration. So my creations become very sensual and feminine, but also remain contemporary and graphic works of art.

7. How have you benefited from all the recent attention surrounding your brand?
The Vogue Talents Corner brought together the biggest buyers from department stores all over the world, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. It was a “wow” experience [that allowed us] to show the collection to a much larger and more selective audience. It was really quite wonderful to get that kind of support.

8. What is your strategy for entering more international channels?
It is very focused and not a question of the number of stores. We want to have the best relationships with the best stores, increase distribution within those accounts and then build on the door count. I am really focused on the collection and don’t want to push [too much for] growth. Asia is different because it’s such a huge continent, and there is so much opportunity to grow there.

9. What kind of category expansion is in the works?
I started with women’s wear [design], so there’s still a big passion to do apparel, but I’d like to start by increasing the accessory selection. I love handbags and will offer a larger range to go with the shoes [for spring ’12]. Then, in a couple seasons, I wouldn’t mind creating a range of men’s shoes.

10. Are you open to taking on a financial partner, and what options would it provide for your line?
We’re a small team, and I like it that way, but we’re really growing and you can’t increase the business without also expanding the team around you. For that kind of growth, you need [financial] backing. It would allow us to open a store, accelerate growth [and] allow us to concentrate more on each market.

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